Photo by Tony Valainis
The Brown County Music Center is finally finding its groove after a first year interrupted by COVID. Like the leaves this time of year, a lot is changing in hill country. Think of this as your trail map.
Stay A Few Nights
A Different Story
Growing up, Rich Hofstetter learned the ins and outs of the Story Inn working with his late father, who owned the charming but struggling destination. Now that he has the reins, the 31-year-old shares his plans for creating a more sustainable business in one of the most rural parts of Indiana. As told to Dawn Olsen
STORY HAS BEEN in my family for 22 years—I was a kid when my dad took over. My parents were divorced, so I grew up mostly in Seattle. But during summer vacations, winter vacations, and some holidays, I would come to Indiana and try to help out. Some of the people who worked around Story back then are still here. There are two maintenance guys, for example. One has been here off and on for 16 years, and the other has been here for about 20. It’s the same for others—there are people who have worked here for a long time. We need to make some changes at the Inn, but those people are why I like to do things collaboratively and get input. I want to make the best decision for everyone because our challenges affect other families.
This past year, we’ve had to get creative about how to attract people during the wintertime and on weekdays when the Inn isn’t full. Part of it is semantics. You don’t say, “We’re closed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.” You say, “We’re open to private parties on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.” We’re starting a bakery and seeing if that helps us in the wintertime. We want to market ourselves as a general store where anyone can come in and get pastries or breads. There’s no grocery store around, so we want to make things more convenient for our neighbors. If someone needs dry goods, we have them. We have propane. All the herbs you could want.
My dad passed away right before the pandemic, but honestly, I don’t dwell on his death. He did some great things for Story—getting us on the National Register of Historic Places was a heck of an accomplishment—but he was facing a lot of stresses and personal challenges. I’m focused on taking care of this place for the next generation. In order to be respectful of the past, sometimes you have to make the best decisions for the future.
Inns and Outs
A few years ago, the historic Brown County Inn was completely renovated, with new entertainment options added. Here, five things to do at the Nashville landmark other than sleep.
Hike: Take a walk on the Salt Creek Trail right behind the Brown County Inn (51 State Road 46, 800-772-5249, browncountyinn.com) and introduce yourself to the wilderness of the area. The short path snakes along the south side of town, mere minutes from Nashville’s version of the Magnificent Mile. There’s plenty of shade, benches, and picnic tables along the way.
Play: Cornhole is the unofficial lawn game of Indiana and one of several backyard games available here. The grounds also include a miniature golf course, a playground, and spaces for shuffleboard, sand volleyball, and horseshoes. Equipment for all of them is available at the front desk.
Eat: Hotel guests aren’t the only ones who patronize the Harvest Dining Room. Locals pop in two or three times a week, too. The rotating menu favors homestyle cooking (think fried chicken and meatloaf), but butternut squash curry and black beans and rice are on there as well.
Brunch: From noon to 3 p.m. every Saturday through October, enjoy an acoustic brunch on the Inn’s back deck. Order a veggie Benedict and a Bloody Mary—or the stuffed French toast and a mimosa—and listen to folk and bluegrass music from the likes of Silver Sparrow or The Hammer and The Hatchet.
Attend: For a more intimate experience, head to the Corn Crib Lounge for Wednesday-night open mics. Everyone is welcome to sign up to play.
Sure, the Abe Martin Lodge is great. But a lot of private cabins are now available for rent in Brown County if you’re looking for something different.
Experience The Local Culture
For those who find it hard to get jazzed about cozy cabins and antiquing, eXplore Brown County offers more adrenaline-pumping thrills.
NEED A BIT more excitement during your Brown County visit? At eXplore Brown County (2620 Valley Branch Rd., 812-988-7750, explorebrowncounty.com), thousands of visitors each year fly up to 80 feet high in the air through woods and across a lake on ziplines.
Some guests come to this outdoor amusement park just outside Nashville to conquer their fear of heights, says zipline manager DaRon Bruce. Within seconds of hurtling off the platform, expressions of terror are quickly replaced by exhilaration and elation. There are lower, tamer ziplines for families with small kids (and adults building up their courage), but Bruce says the 5- and 6-year-old kids are usually the ones jumping off with zero hesitation.
Folks who prefer more grounded adventures can do an ATV tour, where they can motor around 30 acres of rugged terrain, powering over steep hills or screaming across straightaways. Guides can lead the curious to an abandoned cemetery, where they expound on the area’s history. Mountain bikers bored with the groomed singletracks inside the nearby state park can tackle 30 miles of rough, unmaintained trails. And those with pent-up aggression issues can play soldier on an 80-acre property, shooting friends and strangers with paintballs.
A Steep Climb
On a DNK Presents adventure retreat in Brown County, Kelsey Steuer overcame her fear of heights—and of talking about her father’s suicide. As told to Robert Annis
I KNEW THE owners of DNK Presents, Danielle and Kate Nolan, through mutual friends. When Danielle called me, she asked if I was free a certain weekend. I thought it was to see if I was available to pet-sit, but was thrown off when her next question was, “Do you have a helmet?” Why would I need a helmet to watch their animals?
What I didn’t know was that my good friend Jackie had nominated me for DNK Presents’ Women’s Adventure Contest. It was a four-day camping trip in Brown County State Park and Yellowwood State Forest with three other women. The four days were packed with mountain biking, ziplining, hiking, and paddleboarding. While all the activities were fun and helped push us past our comfort levels, it was the people who truly made the experience so memorable and life-changing.
I lost my dad to suicide when I was in elementary school. My grandpa and great-grandmother died by suicide as well. Three generations of my family gone too soon. My dad was super outdoorsy, but once he passed, we stopped camping and hiking. Being back outdoors and laughing reminded me of fun memories with my dad.
I’m terrified of heights, and one of the activities was rappelling down a 100-foot rock slab. But that weekend was all about facing your fears, so I took a deep breath and went for it. The other women were at the bottom cheering for me, and Kate was with me the entire way. As I lowered myself, I looked over at her. We had built up a lot of trust over the course of the trip, and I knew she would make sure I stayed safe. She got at eye level with me and told me I could do it. And I did.
Looking back, I know if it had just been me, I would have given up. But the encouragement from Danielle, Kate, and the other women made me able do things I never thought possible. In the past, I would stop myself from doing anything that scared me, whether it was rappelling or talking about my dad. But by the end of the trip, I felt confident and safe enough to open up about him for the first time in a long time.
The trip also gave me the strength to seek out other suicide loss survivors. I went from being silent for 13 years about it to being the Indiana area director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention today. I know I wouldn’t be where I am in my grief journey or my career if it weren’t for the women on that trip.
Attend An Art Class
Brown County is known for its wonderful artisanal shopping scene and some artists teach classes as well as create.
Weaving: Learn the ins and outs of over-under-over at Chris and Bob Gustin’s Homestead Weaving Studio (6285 S. Hamilton Creek Rd., homesteadweaver.com) in eastern Brown County. Would-be weavers can take project-specific classes or group workshops, and the artform’s tedious “warping” is done for you. “They’ll work on looms that are already set up,” co-owner Chris Gustin says. Placemat-weaving classes cost $40. Small- and medium-sized rug-weaving classes are $60 and $80, respectively. “I also offer ‘A Day with a Weaver,’ because now I get people who’ve taken to weaving but they still have questions,” she adds. Gustin teaches a couple of classes weekly year-round—except during October.
Painting: Immerse yourself in the folk art tradition with Amanda Mathis’s adult “primitive” painting course (220 Kelp Grove Rd., amandamathisart.com). Acrylic paints, canvases, and other supplies are included in the $150 cost. The three-week classes are held in the professional artist’s Nashville studio. “I like the students to have some background about color theory, so I touch on that,” she says. “But we stick to a primitive style. I keep them in that mode because it’s not intimidating. Most people think, I might be able to do that! and I like that.” A six-week children’s course is also available for $125.
Pottery: Get behind the (potter’s) wheel for Cynthia Deering’s beginner’s course at Hesitation Point Pottery (51 Parkview Rd., 317-496-0551). The studio features a clay extruder, slab rollers, six potter’s wheels, a glazing room, and more. For $190, students get 25 pounds of clay, glazes, firing, and six weeks of instruction. Courses include one taught session and one practice each week. “We also have ‘Individual Project’ classes,” Deering says. “The student tells me what they want to produce, and we work on accomplishing that the best way possible—either with a slab roller, hand-building, or wheel-throwing.”
Reverend Peyton, whose band was one of the first to play the new Brown County Music Center and will jam there again on New Year’s Eve, reviews his hometown venue. As told to Daniel S. Comiskey
THE BROWN COUNTY Music Center had been a dream of the people around here for a long time. It’s a big leap of faith for a small community to build something like this. People were nervous about it. And then the coronavirus threw a wrench in the works the very first year.
Ultimately, though, I think it’s going to be successful. When you build a music venue from scratch with that use in mind, it gives you the opportunity to get everything right. So many music venues are old, converted theaters or warehouses. At the Music Center, the sound is great. The green rooms are modern and comfortable. There’s not a bad seat in the house—the sightlines are excellent. The stage is big enough to put on not just a concert, but a huge theater production. Maybe the biggest challenge is that a new venue doesn’t come with any lore. The Little Nashville Opry had a rich history. The Brown County Music Center just needs time for more bands to play there so it can build that.
As a fan, I’ve mainly seen local acts there. My first show was The Hammer and The Hatchet, and they were great. I’ve also been there for other, less fun reasons. During the pandemic, it was turned into a coronavirus testing and vaccination site. So that’s where I got my shot.
We’re looking forward to getting back on stage at the Music Center. The place is about 3 miles from my house, so it’s an easy commute. And it’s one of our most raucous crowds. For whatever reason, though, it’s one of the only places I get nervous before a show. I don’t get nervous in front of anybody, but playing in my hometown does it.